Blyth Brussels U21 Crusaders win WOAA title, prepare for OMHA finals
BY DENNY SCOTT
The Blyth Brussels U21 Crusaders have their sights set on the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) championship this weekend after capturing the Western Ontario Athletic Association (WOAA) championship on Saturday.
The Crusaders swept their best-of-three series in two games, downing the Hanover Falcons in Blyth 4-3 on April 1 then earning a 5-2 victory on Saturday night to claim the WOAA championship.
Coach Dan Fritz says the team faced some difficulties in the series, but the Crusaders were able to overcome them and put up the win. The entire playoffs leading up to the finals were unique, he said.
Blyth won three of their five games in the round-robin, topping the Central Perth Predators 4-1 on Feb. 18, losing to the Arthur Vipers 4-3 on Feb. 25, edging out the Huron-Bruce Blizzard 2-1 on Feb. 27, losing to the Hanover Falcons 3-1 on March 5 and posting a convincing 7-2 win over the Walkerton Capitals on March 6. That put the Crusaders in a three-way tie for second place with the Vipers and the Capitals, while Hanover’s record of five wins and one loss put them on top.
The Crusaders then edged out the Vipers two games to one in the semifinal. The Vipers struck first with a 4-3 win in Arthur, however, the Crusaders fought back, earning a 2-1 victory on March 20 and then crushing the Vipers 8-2 on March 25. The win put them up against the first-place Falcons in the finals.
“Hanover cleaned up the round-robin, beating every team except Walkerton,” Fritz said.
That record may have left some of the Crusaders nervous as they entered game two with a key player suspended and on Hanover’s home ice.
“That didn’t help, but we changed the line-up and played better than we did in game one,” he said.
The team was pretty excited, Fritz said, as no one really knew how far the Crusaders would make it this year. The U21 Crusaders ended the regular season with a record of seven wins and five losses.
“We had some tough games against Walkerton and Central Perth throughout the season,” he said. “To finish so strongly certainly made us proud of the team.”
The win is quite the accomplishment for the team as, for a number of years, neither Blyth or Brussels has had a Juvenile (U21) team.
This was the first year for the team, and Fritz said it would be tough to ask for a better one. The squad has 24 players to draw from to fill its 18 dressed positions, and, with some players returning and more coming from the U18 Crusaders squad (which also claimed a WOAA win last week), there are already 21 players signed up for next year, he said.
“I don’t know what the future holds long-term, but for a couple of years we will have a team,” Fritz said.
There were only five other teams at the Juvenile level in the WOAA, he said, which shows that other centres are working hard to attract players, but despite that, the team played 28 games over the season with a total record (including season and postseason games) of 15 wins, eight losses and two ties.